Marrying a Tailor
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1852
"Kate, Kate!" said Aunt Prudence, shaking her head and finger at the giddy girl.
"What! Me marry a tailor? Gracious!"
"I've heard girls talk before now, Kate; and I've seen them act, too; and, if I am to judge from what I've seen, I would say that you were as likely to marry a tailor as anybody else."
"I'd hang myself first!"
"Yes, or jump into the river. Do anything, in fact, before I'd marry a tailor!"
"Perhaps you would not object to a merchant tailor?"
"Perhaps I would, though! A tailor's a tailor, and that is all you can make of him. 'Merchant tailor!' Why not say merchant shoemaker, or merchant boot-black? Isn't it ridiculous?"
"Ah well, Kate," said Aunt Prudence, "you may be thankful if you get an honest, industrious, kind-hearted man for a husband — be he a tailor or a shoemaker. I've seen many a heart-broken wife in my day whose husband was not a tailor. It isn't in the vocation, child, that you must look for honor or excellence, but in the man.
"But a real man wouldn't stoop to be a tailor!"
"You talk like a thoughtless, silly girl, as you are, Kate. But time will take all this nonsense out of you, or I am very much mistaken. I could tell you a story about marrying a tailor, that would surprise you a little."
"I would like, above all things in the world, to hear a story of any interest, in which a tailor was introduced."
"I think I could tell you one."
"Please do, aunt. It would be such a novelty. I shall laugh until my sides ache!"
"If you don't cry, Kate, I shall wonder," said Aunt Prudence, looking grave.
"Cry? oh, dear! And all about a tailor! But tell the story, aunt."
"Some other time, dear."
"Oh, no. I'm just in the mood to hear it now. I'm as full of fun as I can be, and shall need all this overflow of spirits to keep me up, while listening to the pathetic story of a tailor."
"Perhaps you are right, Kate. It may require all the spirits you can muster," returned Aunt Prudence, in a voice that was quite serious. "So I will tell you the story now."
And Aunt Prudence thus began:
A good many years ago — I was quite a young girl then — two children were left orphans, at the age of eleven years. They were twins — brother and sister. Their names I will call Joseph and Agnes Fletcher. The death of their parents left them without friends or relatives; but a kind-hearted tailor and his wife, who lived as neighbors, took pity on the children and gave them a home. Joseph was a smart, intelligent lad, and the tailor thought he could do no better by him than to teach him his trade. So he set him to work with the needle, occasionally sent him about on errands, and let him go to school during the slack season. Joseph was a willing boy, as well as attentive, industrious, and apt to learn. He applied himself to his books and also to his work, and thereby gave great satisfaction to the good tailor. Agnes was employed about the house by the tailor's wife, who treated her kindly.
As Joseph grew older, he became more useful to his master, for he rapidly acquired a knowledge of his trade, and did his work remarkably well. At the same time, a desire to improve his mind made him studious and thoughtful. While other boys were amusing themselves — Joseph was alone with his book. At the age of eighteen he had grown quite tall, and was manly in his appearance. He had already acquired a large amount of information on various subjects, and was accounted by those who knew him a very intelligent young man. About this time, a circumstance occurred that influenced his whole after-life. He had been introduced by a friend to several pleasant families, which he visited regularly. In one of these visits, he met a young lady, the daughter of a dry-goods dealer, toward whom he felt, from the beginning, a strong attachment. Her name was Mary Dielman. Led on by his feelings, he could not help showing her some attention, which she evidently received with satisfaction. One evening, he was sitting near where she was chatting away at a lively rate, in the midst of a mirthful circle of young girls, and, to his surprise, chagrin, and mortification, heard her ridiculing, as you too often do — the business at which he was serving an apprenticeship.
"Marry a tailor!" he heard her say, in a tone of contempt. "I would drown myself first!"
This was enough. Joseph's feelings were like the leaves of a sensitive plant. He did not venture near the thoughtless girl during the evening, and whenever they again met, he was distant and formal. Still, the thought of her made the blood flow quicker through his veins, and the sight of her made his heart throb with a sudden bound.
From that time, Joseph, who had looked forward with pleasure to the period when, as a man, he could commence his business, and prosecute it with energy and success, became dissatisfied with the tailor trade he was learning. The contemptuous words of Mary Dielman, made him feel that there was something base in the calling of a tailor — something beneath the dignity of a man. He did not reason on the subject; he only felt.
Gradually he withdrew himself from society, and shut himself up at home, devoting all his leisure time to reading and study. This was continued until he attained the age of manhood, soon after which he procured the situation of clerk in a dry-goods store. At his trade he could easily earn twelve dollars a week; but he left it, because he was silly enough to be ashamed of it, and went into a dry-goods store at a salary of four hundred dollars a year. As a clerk he felt more like a man. Why he should, is more than I can comprehend. But so it was.
As for Mary Dielman, she was not aware, at the time when she felt so pleased with the attentions of Joseph Fletcher, that he was a tailor — a calling for which she always expressed the most supreme contempt. Her thoughtless words were not, therefore, meant for his ears. The fact that she had uttered them, was not remembered ten minutes after they were spoken. Why she no longer met the fine-looking, attentive and intelligent young man — she did not know. Often she thought of him, and often searched the room for him with her eyes, when in company.
Nearly four years passed before they again met. Then Joseph was greatly improved, and so was the beautiful maiden. The half-extinguished fire of love, that had been smouldering in their bosoms, rekindled, and now burned with a steady flame. They saw each other frequently, and it was not long before the young man told her all that was in his heart, and she heard the story with tremulous delight.
The father of Mary, although a merchant, was not nearly so well off in the world as many tailors. His family was expensive and drew too heavily upon his income. The capital employed in trade was therefore kept low, and his operations were often crippled for lack of adequate means. He had nothing, therefore, to settle upon his daughter. When young Fletcher applied for her hand, his salary was five hundred dollars. Mr. Dielman thought his prospects not over flattering, but still gave his consent; at the same time advising him not to think of marriage for a year or two, when he would no doubt be in a better condition to take a wife.
The young couple, like most young couples, were impatient to be married; and Joseph Fletcher, in order to be in a condition that would justify him in talking a wife, was impatient to go into business. Somehow or other, it had entered his mind that any young man of business capacity and enterprise, could do well in the West; and he finally made up his mind to take a stock of goods, which he found no difficulty in obtaining, and go to Madison, in Indiana. Before starting, however, he engaged to return in six months, or so soon as he was fairly under way, and make Mary his wife. At the time named, he was back, when the marriage took place, and he returned with his bride to Madison.
At the trade of a tailor, the young man had served an apprenticeship of seven years. He was a good workman, and had, during the last two years of his apprenticeship, assisted his master in cutting; so that in the art to which he was educated, he was thoroughly at home; and, in setting it up, would have been sure of success. But success was by no means so certain a thing in the new pursuit unwisely adopted. He had been familiar with it for only about two years; in that time he had performed his part as a clerk to the entire satisfaction of his employers; but he had not gained sufficient knowledge of the principles of trade, nor was his experience enlarged enough to justify his entering into business, especially as he did not possess a dollar of real capital. The result was as might have been expected. A year and a half of great difficulty and anxiety, was all the time required to bring his experiment to a close.
Finding that he was in difficulty, two or three of his principal eastern creditors, whose claims were due, sent out their accounts to a lawyer. With directions to put them in a lawsuit immediately. This brought his affairs to a crisis. An arrangement was made for the benefit of all the creditors, and the young man thrown out of business, with less than a hundred dollars in his pocket. Nearly about the same time, Mr. Dielman, the father of his wife, failed likewise.
As a serious loss has been sustained by his eastern creditors on account of the unfortunate termination of his business. Fletcher could not think of going back. He therefore sought to obtain employment as a clerk in Madison. Failing in this, he visited Louisville and Cincinnati, but with no better success. He was unknown in the two last-named cities, and therefore his failure to obtain employment there was no matter of surprise.
Things now wore a very serious aspect. A few weeks found the unhappy young man reduced to the extremity of breaking up and selling his furniture by auction, in order to get money to live upon. There was scarcely a store in Madison at which he had not sought for employment. But all his efforts proved vain. He had a good trade — why, you will ask, did he not endeavor to get work at that? You forget. It was the trade of a tailor! — the calling so despised by his wife. How could he own to her that he was but a tailor! How could he break to her, the disgraceful truth that she had married a tailor!
The money obtained by selling their furniture did not last a very long time.
"I will make another effort to obtain employment in Cincinnati," said the young man, after they were reduced almost to their last dollar. "It is useless to try any longer in this place. I have waited and hoped for some favorable turn of fortune, until my heart is sick."
His wife made no objection, for she had none to make.
On the next day, Fletcher left for Cincinnati. He arrived there in the night. On the following morning, he left the hotel at which he had stopped, and, going into Main street, entered the first merchant-tailor's shop that came in his way.
"Have you any work?" he asked.
"We have room for a journeyman, and are in great need of one. Can you do the best work?"
"Did you serve your time in the city?"
"No. I am from the East."
"Very well. Here is a job all ready. You can go to work at once."
The young man did not hesitate. He took the bundle of work that was given him, and was shown into the back shop. He wrote home immediately that he had obtained employment, which he hoped would be permanent, and that he would be in Madison, Saturday about midnight, and leave again on Sunday evening. He did not say, however, what kind of employment he had procured. That was a secret he meant, if possible, to conceal. When he met his wife, he evaded her direct questions as to the kind of employment he was engaged in, somewhat to her surprise.
For a month, Fletcher went and returned from Cincinnati, weekly, bringing home about eight dollars each week, after paying all his expenses. By that time, his wife insisted so strongly upon going to Cincinnati with him, and taking boarding, that he could make no reasonable objection to the step. And so they moved, Fletcher feeling many serious misgivings at heart, lest his wife should make a discovery of the truth that she had married only a tailor!
"Where did you say the store was at which you are employed?" she asked, a day or two after they were comfortably settled at a very pleasant boarding-house in Cincinnati.
"On Main street," replied Fletcher, a little coldly.
"What is the name of the firm? I forget."
"Carter & Cassard."
Fletcher could not lie outright to his wife, so he told her the truth, but with great reluctance.
No more was said then on the subject. About a week afterward, Mrs. Fletcher said to her husband, "I was along Main street today, and looked at the signs over every dry-goods store that I passed, but I did not see that of Carter & Cassard."
In spite of all he could do, the blood rushed to the face of the young man, and his eyes fell under the steady look directed toward him by his wife.
"The store is there, nevertheless," said he. His manner and the tone in which he spoke, excited in the mind of his wife a feeling of surprise.
For the next four days, there was a strong conflict in Fletcher's mind between false pride and duty. It grieves me to say that, in the end, the former conquered. On Saturday night, he came home with a troubled look, and told his wife that he had lost his situation, which he said had only been a temporary one. In this he certainly went beyond the truth, for he had given it up voluntarily.
The poor young creature's heart sank in her. They had only been in Cincinnati about two weeks; were among entire strangers, and all means of subsistence were again taken from them. It is no wonder that she wept bitterly upon receiving this sudden and distressing intelligence. To see his wife in tears, filled the heart of Fletcher with the severest pangs. He more than half repented of what he had done. But the thought of confessing that he was only a tailor made him firm in his resolution to meet any consequence rather than that.
"He was a fool!" exclaimed Kate, no longer able to restrain her indignation against the young man, and thus breaking in upon her aunt's narrative.
"But remember, Kate, how contemptuously he had heard her speak of his trade, and even vow that she would rather drown herself, than marry a tailor."
"Suppose she did say this, when a thoughtless girl" —
"As you are, Kate."
"Don't bring me into the matter, aunt. But suppose she did say so, is that any reason for his starving her? He was bound to use his best efforts for the support of his family, and ought to have been thankful, under the circumstances, that he was a tailor."
"So I think. And his wife ought to have been thankful too."
"And I suppose she would have been, if he had possessed the manliness to tell her the truth."
"No doubt in the world of that," returned Aunt Prudence, and then resumed her narrative:
A week was spent by the young man in another vain effort to find employment as a clerk. Then he avowed his intention to go to Louisville, and see if nothing could be done there.
"Try longer here, Joseph. Don't go away yet," earnestly and tearfully pleaded his wife. "You don't know how hard it is for me to be separated from you. I am lonely through the day, and the nights pass, oh! so heavily. Something may turn up for you here. Try for a while longer."
"But our money is nearly all gone. If I don't go now, I shall have no means of getting away from this place. I feel sure that I can find something to do there."
His wife pleaded with him, but in vain. To Louisville he went, and there got work at the first shop to which he made application. At the end of a week, he sent his wife money, and told her that he had procured temporary employment. She wrote back asking if she might not join him immediately. But to this he objected, on the score that, as his situation was not a permanent one, he might, in a few weeks, be obliged to leave Louisville and go somewhere else. This, to his wife, was by no means satisfactory. But she could do no less than submit.
Thus separated, they lived for the next three months, Fletcher visiting his wife and child once every two weeks, and spending Sunday with them. During the time, he made good wages. But both himself and wife were very unhappy. Earnestly did the latter plead with her husband to be allowed to move to Louisville. To this however, he steadily objected. Daily he lived in the hope of securing a clerkship in some store, and thus, being able to rise above the low condition in which he was placed. The moment he reached that consummation, so much desired, he would instantly move his family.
At length, it happened that Fletcher did not write once, instead of several times, during one of the periods of two weeks that he was regularly absent. The Sunday morning when he was expected home arrived, but it did not bring, as usual, his anxiously looked-for presence. His wife was almost beside herself with alarm. No letter coming on Monday, she took her child and started for Louisville in the first boat. She arrived at daylight, on Tuesday morning, in a strange city, herself a total stranger to all therein, except her husband, and perfectly ignorant as to where he was to be found. The captain of the steamboat kindly attended her to a boarding-house, and there she was left, without a single clue in her mind as to the means of finding her husband.
Inquiries were made of all in the boarding-house, but no one had heard even the name of Joseph Fletcher. As soon as she could make arrangements to get out, Mrs. Fletcher visited all the dry-goods stores in the city, for in someone of these she supposed her husband to be employed, although he had never stated particularly the kind of business in which he was engaged. This search, after being continued for a greater part of the day, turned out fruitless. Night found the unhappy wife in an agony of suspense and alarm. Someone at the boarding-house advised her to have an advertisement for her husband inserted in a morning paper. She did not hesitate long about this course. In the morning, a brief advertisement appeared; and about nine o'clock a man called and asked to see her.
She descended from her room to the parlor with a wildly throbbing heart, but staggered forward and sank into a chair, weak almost as an infant, when she saw that the man was a stranger, instead of her husband, whom she had expected to meet.
"Are you Mrs. Fletcher?" he asked.
"I am," she faintly replied.
"You advertised for information in regard to your husband?"
"I did. Where is he? Oh, sir, has anything happened to him?"
"No, ma'am, nothing serious. He has only been sick for a week or ten days. Is your husband a tailor?"
"Is the man you speak of a tailor?" eagerly asked Mrs. Fletcher.
"He is, ma'am; and has been working for me at 320 Fourth street."
"Then he is not my husband," replied the poor wife, bursting into tears. "My husband is a clerk." In the bitterness of a keen disappointment, rendered sharper by doubt and fear, Mrs. Fletcher wept for some minutes. When she could command her feelings to some extent, she thanked the tailor for calling, and repeated what she had said, that the man at his house could not be her husband.
"He is from Cincinnati, ma'am; and goes there once in every two weeks. I know that he has wife and child there," said the man.
"Still he cannot be my husband," replied Mrs. Fletcher; "for my husband is not a tailor."
"No, in that case, my employee cannot be your husband." And the man withdrew.
All day long the wife waited for some more satisfactory reply to her advertisement, but no farther response to it was made. The call of the tailor seemed like a mockery of her unhappy condition.
Night came, and all remained in doubt and darkness; and then the mind of Mrs. Fletcher turned to the visit of the tailor, half despairingly, in order to find some feeble gleam of hope. Perhaps, she said to herself, as she thought about it, there is some mistake. Perhaps it is my husband after all, and the man is in some error about his being a tailor. As she thought, it suddenly flashed through her mind that there had been a good deal of mystery made by her husband about his situation in Cincinnati as well as in Louisville, which always struck her as a little strange. Could it be possible that his real business was that of a tailor? All at once she remembered that her husband had been particularly silent in regard to his early history. Trembling with excitement, she left the house about eight o'clock in the evening, and started for the place where she remembered that the tailor said he lived. He was in his shop, and recollected her the moment she entered.
"Can I see the man you told me was named Fletcher?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am; and I sincerely hope there has been some mistake, and that you will find him to be your husband; for he is very ill, and needs to be nursed by a careful hand."
Mrs. Fletcher followed the tailor upstairs, her heart scarcely beating under the pressure of suspense. In a small chamber in the third story, the atmosphere of which was close, oppressive, and filled with an offensive odor, she was shown a man lying upon a bed. She needed not a second glance, as the dim light fell upon his pale, emaciated face, to decide her doubts. Her husband lay before her! Eagerly she called his name, but his eyes did not open. She spoke to him again and again, but he did not recognize, even if he heard her voice.
On inquiring, she found that he was ill with a violent fever, which the doctor said was about at its crisis. This had been brought on by too long continued labor — he having worked, often, sixteen and seventeen hours out of the twenty-four — by that means earning a third more wages than any other journeyman in the shop.
Alarmed and troubled as she was, Mrs. Fletcher was utterly confounded by all this. She could not comprehend it. All night she hovered over the pillow of her husband, giving him medicine at the proper times, placing the cooling draught to his lips or bathing his hot forehead. Frequently she called his name, earnestly and tenderly, but the sound awoke no motions in his sluggish mind. Toward morning, she was sitting with her face resting against a pillow, when his voice, speaking distinctly, aroused her from a half slumber into which she had, momentarily, lost herself. In an instant she was leaning over him, with his name upon her lips. His eyes were open and he looked steadily into her face. But it was evident that he did not know her.
"Joseph! Joseph! don't you know me?" said she. "I am your wife. I am here with you."
"Poor Mary!" he murmured, sadly, not understanding what was said. "If she knew all — it would break her heart."
"What would break her heart?" quickly asked his wife.
"Poor Mary! She said she would never marry . . ." — here the sick man's voice became inarticulate.
But all was clear to the mind of Mrs. Fletcher. She remembered how often she had made the thoughtless remark to which her husband evidently referred. The tears again fell over her cheeks, until they dropped even upon the face of her husband, who, after he had said this, muttered for a while, inarticulately, and then, closing his eyes, went off into sleep.
Toward morning a slight sweat broke out all over him, and his sleep that was heavy, became soft and tranquil. The crisis was past! In order not to disturb the quiet slumberer, Mrs. Fletcher sat down by the bedside perfectly still. It was not very long before, over-wearied as she was, sleep likewise stole over her senses. It was daylight when she was awakened by hearing her name called. Starting up, she met the face of her husband turned earnestly toward her.
"Dear husband!" she exclaimed, "do you know me?"
"Yes, Mary. But how did you get here?" he said, in a feeble voice.
"We will speak of that at some other time," she replied. "Enough that I am here, where I ought to have been ten days ago. But that was not my fault."
Fletcher was about to make some farther remark, when his wife placed her finger upon his lips, and said —
"You must not talk, dear; your disease has just made a favorable change, and your life depends upon your being perfectly quiet. Enough for me to say that I know all, and love you just as well, perhaps better. You are a weak, foolish man, Joseph," she added, with a smile, "or else thought me a weak and foolish woman. But all that we can settle hereafter. Thank God that I have found you; and that you are, to all appearances, out of danger."
Aunt Prudence looked into Kate's face — and saw that tears were on her cheeks.
"Would you have loved him less, Kate," she asked, "if he had been your husband?"
"He would have been the same to me, whatever might have been his vocation. That could not have changed him."
"No, certainly not. But I have a word or two more to add. As soon as Fletcher was well enough to go to work, he took his place again upon the shop-board, his wife feeling happier than she had felt for a long time. In about six months, he rose to be foreman of the shop, and a year after that, became a partner in the business. At the end of ten years, he sold out his interest in the business, and returned to the East with thirty thousand dollars in cash. This handsome capital enabled him to get into an old and well-established mercantile house as partner, where he remained until his death. About the time of his return to the East — you, Kate, were born."
"I!" ejaculated the astonished girl.
"Yes. Your two older siblings died while in Louisville; and you, their third child, were born about six months before they left."
"I!" repeat Kate, in the same surprised tone of voice.
"Yes, dear, you! I have given you a history of your own father and mother. So, as you're the daughter of a tailor, you must not object to a tailor for a husband, if he is the right kind of a man."
It may very naturally be supposed that Kate had but little to say against tailors after that, although we are by no means sure that she had any intention of becoming the bride of one.